Racism in Fable II

20 Jul

During my blog hiatus, I’ve been playing Fable II, a video game for the XBox 360. I’m not much of a gamer – I played Zelda: Link’s Awakening on my old Gameboy by using my sword to cut down grass and discover money instead of fighting the monsters like you were supposed to. But the person I’m dating made Fable II seem like fun, so I started messing around with it. This game has so many problems from a feminist, fat-accepting anti-racist  perspective (and many other parts of my soci0-political ideology) that I felt compelled to turn it into a series. And as the title of this post indicates, I’m beginning the series with a discussion of race and racism within the game.

You can’t play a non-white character. Let me repeat that: you cannot play a fucking non-white character. Hell, even the copy of Barbie: Nail Salon I had as a kid let you change the skin tone of the disembodied hand that was the feature of the game. And one of the quote-unquote features of Fable II is the customizable characters – you can play a woman, a man, a pure or corrupt character, a good or evil character. But you can’t play a non-white character. What the fuck?

Actually, that’s untrue. You can play a non-white character, but only if certain in-game requirements are met. I mentioned the good/evil and pure/corrupt choices, but I couched them rather vaguely. Let me explain further. Based on the choices you as your character makes – such as one of the initial decisions your character makes, whether to give either a town guard or an assumed criminal some arrest warrants – the physical appearance of the character changes, as does the opinion of the villagers the character encounters. By giving the assumed criminal your arrest warrants, you become evil (because the law is always good) and corrupt (because you are paid for your trouble (even though the guard would have paid you the same amount)). The more pronounced levels of corruption darken your character’s skin tone – so as long as you’re willing to play a corrupt character, right?!

I don’t really have words for how much of a fucked-up legacy that is. Essentially, Fable II is a morality play – by playing a corrupt character, the game punishes you. It’s harder to be liked by the citizens of Albion, and by making corrupt/evil choices, the character does not recieve profitable properties, such as the well-developed Westcliff, Bowerstone Old Town (if you give the guard the warrants, Old Town becomes one of the richest places in Albion, while giving them to the criminal turns Old Town into a slum – buying properties gives the player rent, and the more valuable the property, the higher the rent) and the farm in Brightwood. So the game is, more or less, telling the players that it’s a bad thing to play a darker-skinned character. Telling the players it’s wrong to play/be a person of color.

Also, by playing a good character (gives gifts to people, doesn’t slaughter the innocents, etc.), the character begins to appear more Aryan. My first character was positively blond , with a delightful (sarcasms galore) peaches & cream complexion, by the time I hit a game-ending glitch about 75% through the game. Practically all of the villagers were propositioning me for sex because the game reads “Good, Pure” as sexyhawt. Because the only desirable, attractive features are those that make you look Anglicized. Naturally

And then there’s the sole person of color in the game. A non-player character (NPC), Garth is the hero of Will(magic). He is literally playing the magical negro (sorry for the noise, that was just from banging my forehead into my desk. Where did I put that headache medicine?). Garth comes from the land of Samarkand, a place outside the game’s setting of Albion. Reaver, another of the heroes, mentions the “exotic substances” and “uninhibited people” of Samarkand with a sort of wistfulness. Because associating drugs and high sex drives with non-whites is never problematic. Aaargh.

Eloriane of Gender Goggles has a couple of posts up on Fable II, on sex and eating. I also intend to write on these topics.

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6 Responses to “Racism in Fable II”

  1. jay August 2, 2009 at 2:56 am #

    i have to say that i completely disagree with just about all of that, first of all being corrupt in fable 2 actually makes your complexion turn to a pasty vampire like white color( which would be the oposite of what you are saying and it would suggest that being/ playing a white character is bad) the contrast of your skin is determined by the time of day your most active aka sun tan vs anemia which is purely cosmetic an carries no benefits either way. secondly yes there is a npc character called garth who is of color and compared to the shoot first have an orgy later white hero reaver, garth is a much more respectable character, many people stereotype african americans as gangbangers who go around pulling drivebys on people but this time its a white guy doing it in a pirate ship( pirate aka white guys are all criminals?) i would be very impressed if someone could convince me that garth being of color but having magical powers far greater than your character who apparantly can only be white is racist towards non whites to me that says non whites are better. for the record im a caucasian who cannot tan and it sucks

  2. molamola August 7, 2009 at 11:42 pm #

    Didn’t understood the last part :s could you explain better please?

  3. Janelle September 14, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

    i just came across this when googling something about Fable, and I think you take the game way too seriously. It’s just a video game. If you think it’s so bad, look at Disney. Fat people are evil, and only skinny girls can be princesses and muscular guys can be kings.

    Also, if you looked correctly while playing the game, you’d realize that they don’t become BLACK when they’re evil, they have darker eyes and over-all look more evil. It’s not saying anything about race. You just have it in your head that it does because you noticed there’s not a playable black character. They do not make the character look black, or, in our PC world today, African-American.

    If you notice, the game is based on medieval times, where black people were slaves or just didn’t exist in that particular society. As for the woman, I don’t have an answer for that. If you played the first Fable however, there wasn’t the option of being a woman. And Garth is one of the three biggest heroes. What is the problem with that?

    It;s a video game with and amazing plot, and it’s very fun. If you’re someone who is going to let race get in the way of that, you should just crawl in a hole.

  4. niemaodpowiedzi September 15, 2009 at 1:43 pm #

    It’s just a video game.

    This blog discusses various forms of entertainment from a feminist, anti-racist perspective. Video games are one of these forms, as are films such as those created by Disney. If this is a problem for you, do not hesitate to ignore the existence of my blog.

    As far of the rest of your criticism, if I misinterpreted the game consequences for corruption, I apologize. However, this does not change the fact that the hero becomes more blond and Caucasian-appearing upon what the game terms “good behaviour.” This is highly problematic, as by making good people appear white, it demonizes those who do not appear as an idealized version of whiteness. And it reflects poorly on the Western culture in which this game was created, by placing one group’s ancestry above another’s. This tactic has been used for centuries to undermine messages of all humans being equal, and maintaining a power dynamic in which white people are the ones who set the socio-political boundaries. Also, by placing an Anglicized appearance as the most sexually attractive to the NPC townspeople of the game, Fable II further reinforces the concept of whiteness as superior to non-whiteness, an incredibly damaging false paradigm.

    If you notice, the game is based on medieval times, where black people were slaves or just didn’t exist in that particular society.

    And this means race shouldn’t be discussed in relation to Fable II? By making people of color almost entirely invisible, the game passes up a powerful opportunity to raise awareness of a seldom talked-about aspect of European history – the absence of people of color from the history books, in spite of their presence in Europe. Stating that Europe was a homogenized source of whiteness displays an unawareness of reality, albeit one that Fable II appears to support.

    And Garth is one of the three biggest heroes. What is the problem with that?

    The fact that Garth is one of the heroes is not the problem. My problem with the characterization of Garth is one I wish I had elaborated more on in the post itself, rather than expecting the link to do so. The problem with the magic-user being black is the fact that it plays into a stereotypical role for black characters in media (media meaning literature, film, video games, etc.). The cliché of the magical negro is that the character has some mystical powers that help the white protagonist (which we’ve established that Fable II has) accomplish their goals. Other characteristics of the magical negro are imprisonment (the first scene in which Garth is significant, he is taken captive by Lucien’s men), and being “patient and wise” (Garth speaks slowly and methodically – indicating patience, and his words are often meant to be taken as truth – indicating great wisdom). Garth is also a willing participant in Theresa’s plot against Lucien, willing to risk his life to stop Lucien’s plans, another characteristic of the magic negro (this contrasts to Reaver, who helps Theresa and the player’s character only to safeguard his own profits).

    As far as your suggestion that I crawl in a hole goes, I don’t take kindly to ad hominem attacks or suggestions that I belong outside of society. Kindly refrain from suggesting such things in the future, on this blog or any other.

  5. blah January 25, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    sorry in advance for my poor spelling and grammer.

    I know this is old, but I just stumbled upon it. (i just picked up fabel last week)

    just a few things:

    “You can’t play a non-white character. Let me repeat that: you cannot play a fucking non-white character. Hell, even the copy of Barbie: Nail Salon I had as a kid let you change the skin tone of the disembodied hand that was the feature of the game. And one of the quote-unquote features of Fable II is the customizable characters – you can play a woman, a man, a pure or corrupt character, a good or evil character. But you can’t play a non-white character. What the fuck?”

    Your right, you can’t but there is a reason for this… When you start the game you start as a decendent of the Hero from the first fabel, and the Hero’s sister from the frist game is the blind seer that guides you in the second. In both games you have family that you interact with and all are white, sure they could have been black but they aren’t and i dont think it’s inheritly racist to do so there are TON of games where the main char is white so its unfair to pin this all on fable.

    “Actually, that’s untrue. You can play a non-white character, but only if certain in-game requirements are met. I mentioned the good/evil and pure/corrupt choices, but I couched them rather vaguely. Let me explain further. Based on the choices you as your character makes – such as one of the initial decisions your character makes, whether to give either a town guard or an assumed criminal some arrest warrants – the physical appearance of the character changes, as does the opinion of the villagers the character encounters. By giving the assumed criminal your arrest warrants, you become evil (because the law is always good) and corrupt (because you are paid for your trouble (even though the guard would have paid you the same amount)). The more pronounced levels of corruption darken your character’s skin tone – so as long as you’re willing to play a corrupt character, right?!”

    This, when you are evil you turn pasty white with black hair, if you are good you get tan skin and blond hair, if you are pure you gain a halo and a clear complextion, if you are corrupt you gain a bad complection and horns, non of those make you “black”.

    “I don’t really have words for how much of a fucked-up legacy that is. Essentially, Fable II is a morality play – by playing a corrupt character, the game punishes you. It’s harder to be liked by the citizens of Albion, and by making corrupt/evil choices, the character does not recieve profitable properties, such as the well-developed Westcliff, Bowerstone Old Town (if you give the guard the warrants, Old Town becomes one of the richest places in Albion, while giving them to the criminal turns Old Town into a slum – buying properties gives the player rent, and the more valuable the property, the higher the rent) and the farm in Brightwood. So the game is, more or less, telling the players that it’s a bad thing to play a darker-skinned character. Telling the players it’s wrong to play/be a person of color.”

    Again, since you dont turn black i think your just looking for something to be mad at.
    and the game isnt harder if your Evil, its actually easier since you can just take what you want, but the ppl aren’t going to like you if thats how you operate.

    ” Also, by playing a good character (gives gifts to people, doesn’t slaughter the innocents, etc.), the character begins to appear more Aryan. My first character was positively blond , with a delightful (sarcasms galore) peaches & cream complexion, by the time I hit a game-ending glitch about 75% through the game. Practically all of the villagers were propositioning me for sex because the game reads “Good, Pure” as sexyhawt. Because the only desirable, attractive features are those that make you look Anglicized. Naturally…”

    do you give gifts to ppl who you hate, or treat you badly. Also if you look there are villigares that give you stuff if you “scare” them or if you are “ugly” enough. i recommend anouthe play through.

    ” And then there’s the sole person of color in the game. A non-player character (NPC), Garth is the hero of Will(magic). He is literally playing the magical negro (sorry for the noise, that was just from banging my forehead into my desk. Where did I put that headache medicine?). Garth comes from the land of Samarkand, a place outside the game’s setting of Albion. Reaver, another of the heroes, mentions the “exotic substances” and “uninhibited people” of Samarkand with a sort of wistfulness. Because associating drugs and high sex drives with non-whites is never problematic. Aaargh.”

    here i must say that you are flat out wrong (not at all trying to be confontational, this is your blog after all) but there are tons of black villagers through out the game and its real easy to assume they are from Albion (or whatever) given that they (just like the white villagers) are poor and are incapable to just pick up and move… unlike Garth who is wealthy and powerfull and would be sought after to move to albion by Lucien for his power and intellect… now just beacuse Rever (the biggest asshole in the game) called Samarkand “a place of exotic substances and uninhibited people” does not make it true, and if you recall Garth said right after that “its not like that” to which Rever replied “trust me I’ll find the fun” you are the one equating black ppl to “exotic substances” and “uninhibited people” not the game, not me but you…. you are also the one assuming Smarkland only has Black ppl because the one person from there is black, play again and look more for the other black ppl in the towns, and when you see the ppl who will give gifts look at them some have to see negitive stuff for you to get them.

  6. blah January 25, 2010 at 11:05 am #

    also, you can easily be Evil and Hot, the corruption plays a part in your looks sure but being evil does not, most of that comes from you clothes, hair and makeup, and “fittness”

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